Drugs and corruption scandal rocks Erdogan’s ruling party

Drugs and corruption scandal rocks Erdogan’s ruling party
A video showed Kursat Ayvatoglu snorting cocaine in a car. The rising star in the ruling AKP was close to senior members of the party including Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu. (Supplied)
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Updated 30 March 2021

Drugs and corruption scandal rocks Erdogan’s ruling party

Drugs and corruption scandal rocks Erdogan’s ruling party
  • After initially claiming it was powdered sugar, AKP member Kursat Ayvatoglu admits he was in fact snorting cocaine and that he is a dealer too

ANKARA: The Turkish government faced a tough challenge over the weekend after a video of Kursat Ayvatoglu, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), was publicized on social media where he was seen snorting what is believed to be cocaine in a luxury car.

The news coincided with more than 400 kilograms of heroin being seized in south-eastern Turkey and more than 3.8 tons of marijuana seized in the country’s north-west in separate operations. 

Although Ayvatoglu initially defended himself against drug charges by claiming he was just snorting powdered sugar that looks like cocaine as a joke, he later admitted in an official letter that he was a drug user and dealer. 

Ayvatoglu’s cocaine use along with his ultra-luxurious lifestyle, that goes against the Islamist values that are promoted by the AKP, drew anger from every segment of the society, except for the AKP voters.

Several photos showed Ayvatoglu, in his 20s, using drugs, gambling, taking bubble baths, driving luxury cars that are not affordable with a parliamentary staff salary and consuming alcohol – a lifestyle often criticized and sometimes criminalized by the AKP.

He was detained on March 26 and dismissed from his post at the AKP. Ayvatoglu is known as the adviser to AKP vice-chairman Hamza Dag with several photos showing him closely assisting the lawmaker in meetings and keeping an eye on him at all times, although Dag rejects the claims.

“The employment contract of the person in question who has been working as bureau personnel at the headquarters for almost one year, has been ended,” Dag announced in a tweet on Friday.

Ayvatoglu, who was employed there for about 3,000 Turkish liras ($370) per month, said in his press statement that he stood on the side of prominent politicians from the AKP in order to get strength and “open new doors for him.” 

Several photos of Ayvatoglu with Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as well as other figures of the government also sparked widespread outrage.

“They want to politicize the issue,” Soylu said in reaction to the allegations of corruption.

After being released on condition of judicial control the day after, he was again arrested on March 28 after harsh criticisms on social media and the testimonies of other individuals who were in the same car and who confirmed he was using cocaine. 

“I’m the victim here. I was blackmailed. I’ll file a complaint against this,” he said, adding that those who leaked the video were trying to get some money in exchange for deleting the footage. 

Opposition lawmaker and a lawyer by profession Haluk Peksen submitted an inquiry to the investigative prosecutor about the origins of Ayvatoglu’s wealth. 

“Why was a forensic medicine examination not conducted? Why isn’t there a single questioning about corrupt assets? What is the source of his wealth? Did he provide someone else “powdered sugar” as well? Are there any more “powdered sugar” stockpiles?,” he asked. 

The legislation requires the chief prosecutor to examine the assets of the suspects without getting permission. However, there is still no public declaration about whether this examination will be conducted.

In contrast, last week, a court sentenced Turkish rapper “Burry Soprano” to four years and two months in prison for “inciting drug use” in his song lyrics and video clips. In May 2018, another famous rapper named Ezhel was also arrested on the same charges. He was acquitted in his first hearing in June 2018. 

Ayvatoglu’s case exposed a much deeper youth profile in Turkish politics, especially those who appear to be affiliated with the government. 

“Powdered sugar has become a symbol of a problematic ‘human profile’ that has emerged in the last 20 years in Turkey and has spread especially among the youth. Even if they do not believe in the AKP’s ideas, ideology or lifestyle, they always side with them. They talk about conservatism, nationalism, the Ottoman period, and they make Rabia salute of the Muslim Brotherhood in their social media posts,” Deniz Zeyrek, a dissident journalist, wrote in his column at Sozcu newspaper. 

“They are labeling those who criticize the government, who talk about the injustice and double-standard practices of being a “traitor” or “immoral.” But they are doing their job in the background too and they are benefitting from all the blessings of power. They are getting rich. If they are in trouble, they take shelter in the shadow of the leader, the party. If necessary, they lie without hesitation or even hit the bottom of demagoguery.”


‘This needs to stop!’: Celebrity socialite Paris Hilton expresses support for Palestine

‘This needs to stop!’: Celebrity socialite Paris Hilton expresses support for Palestine
Updated 17 May 2021

‘This needs to stop!’: Celebrity socialite Paris Hilton expresses support for Palestine

‘This needs to stop!’: Celebrity socialite Paris Hilton expresses support for Palestine
  • ‘This is so heartbreaking. This needs to stop! #SavePalestine #GazaUnderAttack #stopthegenocide’

DUBAI: Socialite Paris Hilton has expressed support for Palestine and the Palestinian people as Israel continued its heavy bombardment of the occupied territories in an escalating conflict with Hamas militants.

The celebrity personality, who built her way from being a pampered hotel scion to a successful entrepreneur with a billion-dollar global brand, called for a halt in Israeli attacks against Gaza and a stop to the ‘genocide.’

““This is so heartbreaking. This needs to stop! #SavePalestine #GazaUnderAttack #stopthegenocide”,” Paris tweeted in an accompanying article from The Guardian where Israel claimed attacks in Gaza would continue until there is ‘complete quiet.’

Israeli air strikes killed 33 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the worst reported daily death toll yet in the almost week-long clashes.

 


The heaviest fighting since 2014, sparked by unrest in Jerusalem, saw Hamas and Israel again trade heavy fire, with the death toll rising to 181 in the crowded coastal enclave of Gaza since Monday and at 10 in Israel, according to authorities on either side.

The 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation opened an emergency meeting Sunday over the heavy fighting, the first major move among Middle East nations still grappling with how to address the conflict.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki of the Palestinian Authority, which administers autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, decried what he called Israel’s “cowardly attacks” at the start of the meeting.

Israel said Sunday morning its “continuing wave of strikes” had in the past 24 hours struck over 90 targets across Gaza, where the destruction of a building housing news media organizations sparked an international outcry.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “dismayed” by civilian casualties in Gaza and “deeply disturbed” by Israel’s strike on Saturday on the tower housing the Associated Press and Al Jazeera bureaus, a spokesperson said.

Israel’s army said Sunday that about 3,000 rockets had been fired from the coastal strip towards Israel, the highest rate ever recorded, of which about 450 failed launches fell in the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system had intercepted over a thousand rockets, the army said, in almost a week during which Israeli residential buildings have been hit, with over 500 people wounded.


Kazakhstan says 350 rare antelopes killed by lightning

Kazakhstan says 350 rare antelopes killed by lightning
Updated 14 May 2021

Kazakhstan says 350 rare antelopes killed by lightning

Kazakhstan says 350 rare antelopes killed by lightning
  • Discovery came during calving season for the Saiga, which is known for its distinctive bulbous nose
  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the Saiga among five critically endangered antelopes

Almaty: Kazakhstan said Friday that around 350 critically endangered Saiga antelopes had been killed, probably by lightning, after villagers found their bodies in steppe land in the west of the country.
The discovery came during calving season for the Saiga, which is known for its distinctive bulbous nose.
The Kazakh ecological ministry said in a statement that lightning was the probable cause of their deaths “as there are traces of lightning strikes on the carcasses.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), whose “Red List” is the scientific reference for threatened wildlife, lists the Saiga as among five critically endangered antelope species, with a population of around 124,000 adults.
Kazakhstan is home to the vast majority of the animals, with Russia’s Kalmykia region and Mongolia hosting much smaller populations.
In 2015, around 200,000 of the antelopes — well over half the total global population at the time — were wiped out by what scientists later determined was a nasal bacterium that spread in unusually warm and humid conditions.
In an aerial survey in 2019, Kazakhstan said its Saiga population was estimated at more than 330,000 individuals.
Poaching is a persistent threat, fueled by demand for horn in traditional Chinese medicine. Kazakhstan’s leaders pledged to crack down on the crime after two state rangers were killed by poachers in 2019.


As poverty bites, Lebanese give up their pets

As poverty bites, Lebanese give up their pets
Updated 14 May 2021

As poverty bites, Lebanese give up their pets

As poverty bites, Lebanese give up their pets
BEIRUT: Ibrahim Al-Dika had raised his Belgian shepherd Lexi since she was a tiny pup, but then Lebanon’s economic crisis made him jobless and he had to sell her to repay a bank loan.
“It got to the point where I was no longer able to feed her, the bank was pressuring me, and I hit a wall,” said the 26-year-old, devastated beside her empty kennel outside his Beirut home.
“I didn’t sell a car or a telephone. I sold a soul. I sold a part of me.”
Can you afford to keep your pet? Animal activists say this is a dilemma a growing number of Lebanese owners are facing as their purchasing power nosedives.
Tens of thousands of Lebanese have lost their jobs or seen their income reduced to a pittance due to Lebanon’s worst economic crisis in decades.
As many families struggle to stay afloat, activists say increasingly more pet owners are asking for help to feed or re-home their animals, selling them, or in the worst cases abandoning them.
Dika, after losing his father to illness, was laid off last year when his employer, a fashion retailer, closed shop, affecting his ability to support his mother and brother.
He had spent around a year caring for Lexi, and training her to sit, heel, give him the paw, and play dead.
But when the bank started calling, he saw no option other than to sell her.
He drove over a few days later to check in on her, and Lexi thought he had come to take her home.
“She leapt straight into my car,” he said. “She broke my heart the way she looked at me.”
With more than half of Lebanon’s population now living in poverty, many Lebanese have to depend on non-governmental organizations to get by — even to feed their pets.
Amal Ramadan, 39, said she used to make donations to animal charity PAW. But these days it is her receiving free bags of food from them for her pit bull and bichon, Nelly and Fluffy.
Her monthly salary working in car rental, once equivalent to $1,000, is now worth just $120 because of the Lebanese currency’s sharp devaluation.
“I don’t have enough income to feed my pets,” said the widowed mother of two, who has taken on extra work to make ends meet.
Ramadan said she would rather starve than give up Nelly and Fluffy.
But as the price of imported pet food, meat and veterinary care soars, activists said some other animals have not been so lucky.
At the Woof N’ Wags dog shelter in southern Lebanon, volunteer Ghada Al-Khateeb watched a female dog lying on her side, breathing weakly under a grubby white coat, after she was rescued from the local trash dump.
She said pet abandonments were on the rise.
“Nobody can afford to feed their dogs anymore,” said the 32-year-old hairdresser and divorced mother of twins.
“When they come to hand them over, they tell us: ‘our children are our priority’.”
The shelter’s founder, 28-year-old Joe Okdjian, said he was in desperate need of more donations.
“Sometimes they go a day or two without food,” he said of the 90 dogs already in his care.
As Lebanon’s economy crumbles, people’s fates are mirrored in those of their pets.
In the capital, rescuer Soraya Mouawad said two or three people a week were asking her to re-home their animal.
They say they are emigrating, moving into a smaller home, or can no longer look after them “for personal reasons,” said the founder of Animals Pride and Freedom.
Many young professionals have fled Lebanon since 2019, especially after a massive explosion in Beirut last summer killed more than 200 people and ravaged large parts of the city.
Dedicated activists are working to ensure dozens of pets can also emigrate.
In one room at the Animals Lebanon shelter in Beirut, two cats lay in their beds.
One of them, Hips, was hit by a car in February and is paralyzed below the waist. The other, Edward, was dumped in a box in the street in November and appears to suffer from an allergy.
Soon, the charity said, Hips and Edward are set to travel to a new life in the United States.

Looted Libyan statue returned from Britain

The 2,200-year-old figure was seized at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2013 under suspicion that it was illicitly imported, before being returned this week. (AP)
The 2,200-year-old figure was seized at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2013 under suspicion that it was illicitly imported, before being returned this week. (AP)
Updated 12 May 2021

Looted Libyan statue returned from Britain

The 2,200-year-old figure was seized at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2013 under suspicion that it was illicitly imported, before being returned this week. (AP)
  • 2,200-year-old figure was seized at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2013
  • Libyan Embassy in London thanks UK authorities, British Museum

LONDON: An ancient Libyan statue, believed to be looted from the country during its civil war, has been returned from Britain. 

The 2,200-year-old figure was seized at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2013 under suspicion that it was illicitly imported. Experts from the British Museum were called in to assist efforts to identify the statue.

“Only a handful of these sculptural types are found in museum or private collections outside of Libya,” said the museum.

In 2015, a judge ruled that the artifact was the property of Libya. The museum said the marble’s surface is fresh and preserved, suggesting that it had been recently recovered from the ground.

It assessed that the statue was illegally excavated from the archaeological site of Cyrene during the civil war.

British Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage thanked UK tax authorities and the museum, whose efforts ensured that the country is “able to return this important statue to Libya where it belongs.” 

British Museum experts said the statue was easy to identify as its style is limited to manufacture from workshops in Cyrenaica, ancient Libya. The area was settled by the Greeks in the seventh century BC.

Some 100 statues of the same style have been recovered in Cyrenaica, but the heads of the statues have survived in just over half of cases, said the museum.

Its experts said the statue that was returned to Libya is especially rare as it has both snake bracelets on its wrists and an offering in the shape of a small doll in its hand.

“An important part of the museum’s work on cultural heritage involves our close partnership with law enforcement agencies concerned with illicit trafficking,” said Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum.

“This case is another good example of the benefits of all parties working together to combat looting and protect cultural heritage.”

The Libyan Embassy in London thanked British authorities and the museum for working to recover the statue “to its original homeland.”


Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down

Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down
Updated 11 May 2021

Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down

Young whale stranded in London’s Thames is put down
  • The whale, measuring three to four meters (10-13 feet), was first spotted in southwest London on Sunday
  • Rescue efforts by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) service and firefighters failed when the whale slipped its leash and then swam upriver

LONDON: A juvenile minke whale that became stranded in London’s River Thames has been put down after its condition deteriorated and vets decided it could not survive in the open water.
The whale, measuring three to four meters (10-13 feet), was first spotted in southwest London on Sunday and was washed ashore at a set of gates controlling water flow.
Rescue efforts by the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) service and firefighters failed when the whale slipped its leash and then swam upriver, instead of toward the sea.
“The last 45 minutes we were with the whale its condition was deteriorating, its breathing wasn’t right and it wouldn’t have survived much longer,” BDMLR national coordinator Julia Cable said late Monday.
She said vets from London Zoo injected a “large” anaesthetic dose into the malnourished whale. It is thought the whale got separated from its mother and was unable to fend for itself.
“It’s always sad, but we now know that putting it back out into the open sea would have been sending it to starve out there,” Cable said.
Minke whales are the smallest of the world’s great whales and typically grow to a length of 10 meters in adulthood.
They can usually be found throughout the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans but have been spotted as far north as the Arctic and as far south as the Equator.
In January 2006, a northern bottlenose whale became stuck in the Thames, sparking huge media interest. It died as it was being ferried back out to sea.